Something tricky about Public Art is how difficult it can be to measure its impact. It’s easy to justify that a city needs, say, fairly reliable sewer system maintenance. But Public Art maintenance? It can be tough. Is there Lancaster City data on how many commuters remark on “Silent Symphony?” Are there statistics for how ineffably a Musser Park sculpture brightens someone’s day? It’s hard to argue that pieces of Public Art don’t enhance a landscape, of course, but what else does it really do?
Well, I’m glad you asked. Since I started this internship two months ago, plenty of people have been asking me the same thing. Now, I could talk plenty on the subject. It’s great for building communities, bringing life and pride back to old neighborhoods, fostering art, ingenuity, and tourism—but it was not until last week that I finally stumbled upon the perfect, pocket-sized validation of Public Art. Last Wednesday, July 22nd, The Office of Public Art hosted a dedication ceremony for “Silent Symphony,” the installation by the Amtrak Station. It was a beautiful, breezy summer afternoon, just perfect weather to highlight the spinning kinetic sculptures. Charlotte Katzenmoyer, Head of the City’s Department of Public Works, was one of six speakers who briefly honored the installation. She thanked all who had been involved in the project, and then said these seven golden words: “Public Art is truly an economic investment.”
And there it was. I became just one of many to find an answer in Charlotte Katzenmoyer. What a clean, simple, rational way to sum up Public Art’s worth. Yes, reader, Public Art really is a matter of economics.
Think on this: a nice piece of Public Art—be it a bench, a sculpture, a mural, or something kinetic and interactive—makes a street look nicer. That, we can all agree on. Its selection and installation drum up some interest to that part of town. Ooh, what are they building over there? How much progress have they made? It brings something distinctive to that street corner. People can give directions based on that big mural on the corner. So, we start there. Commuters notice it on their drive into work, and start pointing it out to their guests. Pretty soon, that better-looking street draws more proud residents out of their homes and out into the neighborhood. Maybe a few local entrepreneurs take note of all the foot traffic, and decide this reinvigorated part of town would be a good place to open up their business. Before too long, more businesses, residents, and hey, even a few tourists are all on the street, taking photos and taking in the Lancaster charm. A beautiful street is a bustling street. And a bustling street means a strong economy.
So in beautifying, Public Art revitalizes. In revamping, it restores. Public Art really is about economics, and investing in Public Art really is investing in Lancaster.
Let’s say you were to donate to, oh, I don’t know, the Lancaster County Community Foundation’s Extraordinary Give on November 20th (mark your calendars!). And let’s say you just happened to donate to the City of Lancaster’s Office of Public Art. Well, for just $25, your contribution could…
1. Make 50 children smile.
2. Spark 10 conversations between strangers.
3. Make 70 passer-by do a double-take.
4. Help 50 Lancaster residents love how their neighborhood looks.
5. Give 60 people something neat to show their out-of-town guests.
6. Inspire 25 kids to take an art class.
7. Make 100 people even more proud of their neighborhood.
8. Give 35 Lancaster residents a new idea.
9. Spur 60 people to ask new questions.
10. Motivate 30 city dwellers to appreciate the community around them.
11. Create countless memories, moments, and experiences.
12. Make all of Lancaster a more unique, welcoming place to live!
The work that Public Art does is all part of revitalization and community-building. It’s a long process, and that’s precisely why it’s so important to invest, and keep investing, in Public Art now. I’m so happy I could learn this lesson up close all summer. Enjoy all of Lancaster’s Public Art, and keep this goodness going.
By Erin Moyer, Public Art Intern